National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference

National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference

Date Observed: A week in mid-November
Location: Varies

The National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS) sponsors the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference over a week in mid-November each year. Master storytellers perform at a selected location on a given year, sharing stories in the tradition of the griot (GREE-oh), a west African storyteller who carries on the oral history of a village or family.

Historical Background

In 1982 two African-American storytellers - Mary Carter Smith of Baltimore, Maryland, and Linda Goss of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - founded the National Association of Black Storytellers. The purpose of the organization was, and is, to provide opportunities to share and preserve the African oral tradition.

Smith is the official griot of Baltimore. She began to perfect her art form during the 1960s, as she witnessed the lack of understanding among varied groups of people. In a statement of purpose posted on the NABS Web site, she declared "I am among those who fight misunderstanding. The weapons I use are stories, drama, songs, poetry and laughter. I bring entertainment with a purpose."

Smith has traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa to entertain and inform. Her performance materials are based on her years growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, and her experiences in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland. She also has been a teacher, librarian, and community activist, has presented programs on numerous television and radio shows, and has written books of poetry.

Philadelphian Linda Goss is official storyteller for her city, and she also has performed in numerous U.S. and Canadian communities. An award-winning recording artist and author, she is considered an expert in contemporary storytelling. During her presentations, Goss shares African-American legends she has collected over the years and retells some of the stories she learned from her grandfather, who grew up under slavery. She also relates tales from other family members and neighbors in Alcoa, Tennessee, where she was born and reared. As part of her performance, Goss uses field hollers and praise singing to augment a story, and encourages her audiences to participate through calland-response techniques.

As artist-in-residence at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, Goss has been presenting Words and Wisdom: African American Literature from Slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to hundreds of students each year since 2001. With jazz musician Alfie Pollitt, Words and Wisdom focuses on the contributions of African-American writers of the last two centuries.

Creation of the Festival

In 1983 Mary Carter Smith and Linda Goss initiated the first National Black Storytelling Festival in Baltimore and held a second in Philadelphia in 1984. That year the NABS was formally organized; it was incorporated in 1990. The organization sponsors the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference, which is held in a selected city in November each year.

NABS has a dozen affiliates across the United States. These include the African Folk Heritage in New York City; North Carolina Association of Black Storytellers in Raleigh; Cleveland (Ohio) Association of Black Storytellers; Detroit (Michigan) Association of Black Storytellers; Griots' Circle of Maryland in Baltimore; Keepers of the Culture in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Kuumba Storytellers of Georgia in Atlanta; Black Storytelling League of Rochester, New York; Black Storytelling Association of San Diego, California; Chicago (Illinois) Association of Black Storytellers; Rhode Island Black Storytellers in Providence; and the Florida Black Storytellers Alliance in Tampa, which became the 12th affiliate in 2005.


The NABS and their affiliates represent about 400 storytellers who base their performances on African and African-American experience. They present programs for schools, senior centers, corporate and civic gatherings, religious institutions, and varied special events. Dressed in colorful African-inspired attire, they may read their own storybooks or act out tales that involve audience participation. Some storytellers may include drums or other instruments during their performances.

Festival attendees learn the importance of the storyteller (griot) in Africa and how storytelling conveys the history of African Americans. At the festival, storytellers also conduct workshops for people interested in using the African oral tradition to communicate with an audience - young or old of whatever skin color, socio-economic background, or cultural heritage.

Contacts and Web Sites

National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. P.O. Box 67722 Baltimore, MD 21215 410-947-1117 Rhode Island Black Storytellers P.O. Box 25323 Providence, RI 02905 401-273-4013, ext. 2

Further Reading

Hajdusiewicz, Babs Bell. Mary Carter Smith: African-American Storyteller. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1995. (young adult) Hale, Thomas A. Griots and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. Pershing, Linda. "'You can't do that, you're the wrong race': African American Women Storytellers at a Contemporary Festival." Women and Language, Spring 1996.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007

Black Storytelling Festival and Conference, National

The National Association of Black Storytellers meets annually in November for its National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference. The event, open to both performers and listeners, features workshops and performances by a diverse range of storytellers, including those who dance, play instruments, or recite poetry. All are united by an interest in the African and African-American oral tradition. At the conference, daytime workshops are offered in various aspects of storytelling, while evenings are devoted to concert performances and special story-telling circles. A "master liar's contest" is considered a festival favorite. Also on offer is an African-American market place with cultural instruments, clothing, jewelry for sale, as well as demonstrations, games, and casual storytelling.
The National Association of Black Storytellers was founded by storytellers Mary Carter Smith and Linda Goss in 1982. The first festival of black storytelling was held in 1983 in Baltimore, Md. Its festival and conference now draws thousands of participants and listeners.
National Association of Black Storytellers
P.O. Box 67722
Baltimore, MD 21215
410-947-1117 or 410-489-6747; fax: 410-489-2428
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
The festival is now known as the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference. NABS welcomed its first two affiliate organizations in 1992.
Celebrate the 25th anniversary of the National Black Storytelling Festival and Conference in Atlanta.
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